Chord cycles (or Pop chaconnes)

February 18, 2010

Today I lectured about what I’m now calling “chord cycles”–a series of chords that repeat over and over. In the Baroque, these types of compositions were called “chaconnes.” Composers think of any repeated set of chords as a chaconne, but historians are sticklers about that progression being a set progression. There are more arguments about the difference between passacaglias and chaconnes. Professor McClary suggested I just refer to a chord cycle as an “ostinato” (Italian for stubborn). Despite the historical sense of it, that didn’t seem like a good phrase either.

So, starting today, I’m going to refer to them as chord cycles, a term that seems self-explanatory, you don’t have to speak Italian, or know Renaissance or Baroque dance forms.

In the lecture I covered “La Folia,” the chaconnes used by Handel, Bach, and Purcell, the “I Got Rhythm” [“rhythm changes”] and “Blue Moon” chord progressions (I vi IV [or ii] V), the “La Bamba” variants (including “Louie Louie,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Wild Thing,” Bob Marley’s chord cycle from “No Woman No Cry” and a couple of more. I also looked at the circle of fifths in songs and how they are used (think: Vivaldi Winter/Four Seasons, “The Autumn Leaves,” and “All the things you are”). I closed with the “Sensitive Female Chord Progression” (vi IV I V) made clear in Joan Osborne’s “What if God Were One of Us.”

If you’d like to hear the whole set, here is a YouTube playlist that I made for the lecture.

[Musical examples from the lecture handout. Pg.2 is missing.]

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